Senators Propose Fuel-Tax Holiday Amid Funding Debate
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Congressional lawmakers are proposing measures that include a suspension of the federal gas tax to stave off soaring prices at the pump, and are considering other remedies to ease inflationary price increases as Congress averted a federal government shutdown by passing a short-term spending measure.
On Feb. 17, the Senate approved House-passed legislation 65-27 that would ensure funding for federal agencies through March 11. The government had been operating on funding authority that was set to expire on Feb. 18.
Amid the debate, partisan disputes centered around vaccine mandates and a constitutional amendment on balanced federal budgets.
Separate from the funding negotiations, Senate Democratic leaders signaled the potential for considering legislation next month designed to reduce costs for individuals affected by inflation. Legislative proposals include monitoring the cost of insulin, evaluating corporate monopolistic structures and suspending the federal gas tax.
Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) recently introduced the Gas Prices Relief Act to suspend the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax through Jan. 1, 2023.
“This legislation is about making sure that we get Granite Staters relief at the gas pump. People are feeling a real pinch on everyday goods, and we must do more to help address rising costs, particularly the price of gas,” said Hassan. “We need to continue to think creatively about how we can find new ways to bring down costs, and this bill would do exactly that, making a tangible difference for workers and families.”
White House officials have not ruled out supporting a fuel tax holiday. Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Feb. 16, “We always have an open dialogue with members of Congress, and all options remain on the table.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chamber’s Appropriations Committee chairman, called on colleagues to support both short-term funding legislation as well as a fiscal 2022 bill, known as an omnibus. The omnibus is designed to keep agencies operating through Sept. 30. As he put it, “We have a responsibility to make the hard choices about how to invest in the future for the American people. A full year continuing resolution is unacceptable.”
“I look forward to working with my dear friends [Appropriations] vice Chairman [Richard] Shelby, [House] Chair [Rosa] DeLauro, and [House] ranking member [Kay] Granger over the next four weeks to reach a final agreement and pass a bipartisan [fiscal 2022] omnibus spending bill by March 11.”
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Last year, Senate Democrats introduced fiscal 2022 legislation to provide the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration with $288 million for safety operations and programs. For the agency’s safety grants program, senators proposed $393.8 million. The overall Senate bill would provide $29.1 billion in discretionary budget authority for the U.S. Department of Transportation, a $3.8 billion increase over the enacted fiscal 2021 level. The House has passed a transportation funding measure for fiscal 2022.
Freight and passenger transportation stakeholders are calling on Congress to approve the fiscal 2022 omnibus. Such approval, the groups argue, would ensure the viability of certain provisions enacted in the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA.
“We urge Congress to honor the promise of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and provide funding levels at least equal to the IIJA’s public transportation and passenger rail investments for fiscal year 2022,” said American Public Transportation Association president and CEO Paul Skoutelas. “These historic investments will enable our communities to provide access to opportunities and create family-wage jobs, advance equity, tackle climate change, and meet growing and evolving mobility demands.”